Minnie the Moocher's Revenge

Sing Along With the JVC All-Stars

But from the opening "Green Dolphin Street" on, the music paid its way. The sound was acceptable, too, thanks in part to DeJohnette's ingenious restraint. Jarrett may not be the only pianist of his era who can embrace "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" at a relaxed medium tempo, indulging the melody while avoiding cocktailisms or Bill Evans devices, but is anyone else as convincing? The energy, poise, flow of ideas, and determination to mine the changes in a thoroughly modern context suffused that song and others—"What's New," "Lover," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Last Night When We Were Young"—with a heady mixture of discipline and originality. He played "Yesterdays" slowly and then jauntily, dramatizing the piece twice over, and closing with a quietly elegant finish. On "Honeysuckle Rose," arranged to begin with quasi-stride (as on the Whisper Not version of "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams"), DeJohnette used brushes and took off on a rocking marchlike solo perfectly appropriate for the piece. Only an untitled free improvisation got away from them. A medium blues caused the Brubeckian audience to explode with naked adoration, acceding to the ritualized routine of encores for which time was permitted by knocking off the second set after half an hour. As the audience cheered for more, members of the trio hugged each other, which was sort of cute. Members of Chick Corea's and Wayne Shorter's bands did the same; it's a boomer thing. Corea's New Trio, as he calls it, refers to the fact that although he has been working with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard for four years, he only conjoined them as a trio eight months ago. The acoustics at Avery Fisher promised to serve the band pretty well, but Cohen had a faulty pickup that, incredibly, the musicians could not hear. Even after the audience protested the distortion—every bass note was accompanied by a loud blat—they expressed surprise. Corea got off a good line, though: "You want to listen with headphones?" After a couple of numbers, the bass mic was turned off, an improvement if you preferred piano-drums duets. Not until the last piece did someone arrive onstage with a microphone. Maybe he had to go to Carnegie to borrow it.

The set had moments, but no passion. You never wonder why Jarrett is playing a particular song—the performance tells you. But Corea turned "I Hear a Rhapsody" into an exercise: rubato theme, much dialoguing with Cohen, who is all over the bass (an occasional four-beat walk would be a relief), tempo changes—all of it light, bright, and slightly preening. Even at his best, Corea is rarely emotional. The pleasure he affords is basically that of exceptional musicianship. "Life Line," the final piece, ended with Corea and Cohen picking up cowbells and sticks to join in Ballard's drum solo, and it was fun, truly, more so than the sing-along on "Spain," with Corea playing phrases on piano and the audience la-di-dahing responses. Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho!

There is no more beautiful nor pined-for sight in jazz than Wayne Shorter holding a tenor saxophone, especially if he means to play it. Following Corea and receiving a standing ovation just for showing up, he did. Surrounded by the uncannily supportive piano, bass, and drums of Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade, he created a spellbinding hour, brimming with feeling and pleasurable apprehension. Although the rhythm players never sounded remotely like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, they re-created the kind of suspense that made the second Miles Davis Quintet a revelation—not merely backing the soloist, but collaborating with him on each measure. The result was a true quartet music, driven by spontaneity, impulse, and a shared commitment to the whole. Shorter achieved what Joshua Redman could only attempt, a genuinely organic quartet music.

Wayne Shorter: no more pined-for sight in jazz
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Wayne Shorter: no more pined-for sight in jazz

They opened with his adaptation of a Sibelius theme, "Valse Triste," and although his tenor lacked the power of his epochal '60s work, it found its way with the wasteless grace that is the hallmark of his mature style. After the debacle at Lincoln Center a few years ago and the sometimes narcoleptic duets with Hancock, his recommitment to the tenor and acoustic jazz would be reason enough to pat him on the back, but excuses were not necessary. The key responsibility of a musician is to keep it interesting, and Shorter knows how. His shy, hesitant, gingerly designed phrases, occasionally interrupted by a roar or a siren arpeggio banking into the clouds, were etched with sure narrative logic. The piece itself accelerated and decelerated, with Perez following his lead, sidling into a solo with equal deliberation, and then relaying the spotlight to bass and drums. Shorter once remarked that composing is the same as improvising, only slower. "Valse Triste," melding the two, ran about 15 minutes without a false step. Even the hall's sound was bright and clear.

Although Shorter's compositional style is easily recognized, his titles, like Monk's, tend to blur. Interestingly, the one piece everyone recognized was his most recent, "Aung San Suu Kyi," introduced on the Hancock duets CD, and the only piece he played on soprano—the audience erupted when Perez played the introductory chords. Shorter performed it with more vitality and rhythmic definition than on the record, expanding on the theme with stop-and-go concentration. Like Bill Evans, he managed on this piece and the others to relay the lead to Perez so deftly that he denied himself applause. Thirty-five years ago, his solos seemed like a respite after Davis's soul-baring candor. Now he is the soul barer, excavating the material with repeated notes and sudden flurries, limpidly falling into the reprise. He has recast "Masquelero," sustaining the third note of the opening phrase, but this piece seemed stillborn, taking its time being born in a de facto dialogue between Shorter and Blade, and never quite delivering on the promise. Even here, however, the cohesion of the quartet sustained interest, intuiting directions. It was like walking through a dark room, feeling your way to the light, then slipping into the dark for good.

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